Glen Avon Presbyterian

Glen Avon Presbyterian Church photographed in 1923 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

2105 Woodland Ave. | Architects: German & Lignell | Built: 1909 | Extant

Scottish immigrant brothers-in-law Ronald M. Hunter and Angus MacFarlane developed the neighborhoods of Hunter’s Park and Glen Avon beginning in 1891. In 1893 MacFarlane took it upon himself to build a church in memory of his mother at 2104 Woodland Avenue, a two-story Shingle-style building with a foundation of native stone, a tall corner bell tower, and stained-glass windows (pictured on page 299). That October, twenty families of mostly Scottish and English descent organized Glen Avon Presbyterian under Reverend Sam Semple and moved into the church. The Duluth News Tribune described the building as the “center of religious and social life in Hunter’s Park and Woodland.”

In 1907 the growing congregation broke ground on a new church directly across from the 1893 edifice. An English Gothic Revival design by Frederick German and A. Verner Lignell, the church features a mix of rectangular and lancet windows, tower buttresses, and square crenelated central tower along its Lewis Street façade that holds the bell from the original church. The largest Gothic window is divided by tracery, and it includes several Tiffany stained-glass windows designed by Duluth’s Ann Weston.
What makes the 1909 edifice truly grand is the native black basalt that faces it, quarried a half mile away at Hunter’s Hill on the property of Ronald Hunter, who donated the rock. The same stone faces Hunter’s 1892 home. Its trim is Lake Superior sandstone from the Wisconsin South Shore. A member of the building committee told the Duluth News Tribune that “the church really looks like it grew spontaneously from the spot on which it stands.”

Its interior features Gothic ribbing made of fir beams. The sanctuary originally sat 300 worshippers, and the adjacent Sunday School auditorium held another 250. The school also held six classrooms and a library. The basement kitchen and social room was designed to feed 200people; a small parlor contains the two Tiffany windows that hung in the 1893 church. When the new church was complete, the old church was donated to a new Presbyterian congregation in the Iron Range town of Gilbert, Minnesota. The building was dismantled, moved, and reassembled in Gilbert. Today it serves as the Gilbert Community United Methodist Church.

The 1909 Glen Avon Church has undergone many renovations over the years, including an extensive addition in 1951 designed by Donald Melander that included an education wing and lower level fellowship hall and chapel, doubling the size of the facility. Fortunately, at the time Duluth still had enough local basalt to match the 1909 façade. The church continues to serve Duluth Presbyterians today.